So, who is the leading featherweight on the planet right now in mixed martial arts?
In retaining the UFC featherweight title in the manner he did against Chan Sung Jung, 33-year-old Alexander ‘the Great’ Volkanovski has certainly made a case for his impregnability at 145lbs.
Living up to his octagon sobriquet, the Australian’s performance against ‘the Korean Zombie’ had ‘masterclass’ written all over it. But we must put it in some sort of perspective.
We celebrate dominance when it is clean and clinical but the 35-year-old Korean, at this stage in his career, was the perfect canvas upon which Volkanovski – born to a Macedonian father and Greek mother – could paint his beautiful brutality.
Pre-fight, I had picked a three-round drubbing. In truth, not a difficult pick. The script was not a poser.
And Volkanovski did not divert from that script, attacking perfectly from head to toe, with utterly dominant striking and grappling.
Jung’s best days are a long way gone, and you have to look back several years to see his at his very best. When the Korean Zombie fought the likes of Jose Aldo and Dustin Poirier a decade ago – I was there and watched those fights live – he was a different fighter. He could walk through three to give one; his body of work sits at ‘good’ and not ‘great’, much as he has always been a crowd pleaser with his never-say-die attitude through his trance-like haze of recklessness.
Volkanovski has now matured into a clinical machine and that showed on Saturday night. I’d say he is at his peak right now, so how would he have fared against a prime Aldo, or against Conor McGregor during his purple period?
One thing is sure: where Volkanovski sits now – having extended his overall winning streak to 21, with his last 11 in the octagon – they would have been monumental clashes.
Comparisons in different eras can be odious – and MMA is so fast developing that five years can feel like an era – but Volkanovski’s skillset and armoury, his solidity and mental discipline stack up.
Perhaps where he differs from McGregor is that the Irishman had a unique ability to seemingly mooch around in his opponent’s head, to carry the hordes with him and feed off that energy to create havoc and the unexpected. Volkanovski is like a fortress. Aldo and he would have been a war; McGregor would have had to stop the Australian. We can only surmise. But there will be many out there who would reason that he may have beaten both. He has already beaten fellow great Max Holloway, twice.
Sadly, and this is in the politics and structure of fight leagues, we would have the perfect opponent for Volkanovski out there right now in AJ ‘the Mercenary’ McKee, Bellator’s featherweight king.
Undefeated in 18 fights, McKee has extraordinary talent, speed and rawness, with risk taking to go with it. The mind boggles over a fight between the pair.
Across the combat sports spectrum, boxing is often critiqued for its very best not meeting each other with enough alacrity in such situations, often due to promoters and conflicting television deals – and it remains a crying shame that the MMA fight leagues can simply not cross over. Volkanovski versus McKee would be a special fight, a true mega fight, and considering it right now from the fans’ perspective, it would be as big as any fight out there in MMA.
McKee, of course, has his return fight with Patricio Pitbull at Bellator 277 in San Jose on Friday night, live on BBC iPlayer. McKee already dismantled the ex-champion in one minute 57 seconds at the fabulous Forum in Los Angeles last July.
But there is as much chance of Volkanovski-McKee happening as two bald men fighting over a comb.
Volkanovski doesn’t need a comb – but there is a gleaming crown on his head right now, and it is thoroughly deserved.
Chimaev hype train hits a snare?
Did the hype train for welterweight Khamzat Chimaev hit the buffers at UFC 273? Well, it was a close war the Swedish national born out of war-torn Chechnya had with truly elite level number two-ranked Brazilian Gilbert Burns, affording Chimaev his first narrow victory and extending his winning run in MMA to 11 contests.
The great thing is that he learnt so much about himself in this fight – and we learnt so much about him. Heart, stamina, self-belief and the ability to be in the trenches and battle his way through. He was dropped, he dropped Burns and came through the war by the skin of his teeth.
Previously, Chimaev had dominated opponents – the hype train seemingly placing him on an inexorable rise to challenge for the championship at 170lbs currently dominated by Kamaru Usman. In a way, it was a perfect learning-curve fight. Not quite ready yet, my report reads on his overall standing, for the Nigerian rock.
Let’s throw Chimaev in next against another fan pleaser – USA’s Colby Covington – and UFC president Dana White seemed to be suggesting that was next for ‘Borz’ post-fight in Florida. Good move, right move.